Happy Mid-Autumn Festival (3): Tradition Vs Reality?!


Moon cakemid autumn 3

Tradition

Moon cake (月餅/月饼/yuè bĭng) was believed to be first made as a medium to spread secret messages to overthrow the Mongolian ruler of China in Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). There are different regional variations of moon cake but common fillings include:

  • Lotus seed paste (蓮蓉/莲蓉/lían róng) + salted egg yolks
  • Sweet bean paste (豆沙/dòu shā) + salted egg yolks
  • Five kernel (五仁/wǔ rén): 5 types of coarsely chopped nuts and seeds (e.g. walnuts, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds,peanuts, sesame seeds, or almonds) together with maltose syrup, candied winter melon, jinhua ham, or pieces of rock sugar as additional flavouring
The secret to bake a delicious moon cake is to use lard for the crust. As you can imagine, moon cake can be filling and fattening, so Chinese people usually eat it with black tea like pu’er (普洱). And it’s a custom to give moon cakes to relatives and close friends as gift before the Festival.

 

Reality

mid autumn 3 - 1

Moon cake is a big and very profitable business, especially in China where relationship (關係/关系/Guānxì) is very important in business environment. While health awareness increases amongst the general public and traditional moon cake becomes old fashioned to younger generation, some moon cake suppliers, be it bakeries, restaurants, hotels, or foreign food companies, start to make moon cakes with different fillings and crusts, basically any flavour and style you can think of…

  • mid autumn 3 - 2Crusts: traditional one with gold flake on top, non-baked crust made of glutinous rice (known as snow skin moon cake 冰皮月餅) or jelly
  • Fillings: cream cheese, tiramisu, green tea, pandan, durian, ice cream (variety of flavours), chocolate, coffee, peanut, mango pomelo sago, ginseng, bird’s nest, abalone, shark fin, …
  • even entire cake made of pure GOLD…
When I used to work in manufacturing industry as Sales back in Hong Kong and China, I started getting busy from end August for mid autumn festival… and it was my To-do list below…
mid autumn 3 - 3
While my customers operate manufacturing sites with thousands of workers, the buying teams can easily be 100+, so it’s quite a challenge to make a gift list within budget and without upsetting any parties. Another challenge is the logistics. Those moon cakes usually come with really heavy packaging to give it a premier look and feel. Even with the help of company driver, it’s like an intensive weight lifting training for me… In addition, my previous company usually book moon cakes through a hotel located in Shenzhen and my customers scatter around Guangdong province, so I need to book a company car, load it with moon cakes and start my journey of distributing moon cakes which can take me days to complete. The worst part is that not all customers appreciate it but I need to do that to match what the competitors do.

 

To learn more about the latest trend of moon cake, read this article “Mooncakes, China’s traditional festive gift, are getting a makeover” by Guardian.

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